Leopard Gecko Impaction: Common Causes & Treatment

By Frank Miller •  Updated: 12/12/23 • 

The number of leopard geckos diagnosed with impaction yearly in the US is undocumented. Still, knowledgeable estimates from seasoned exotic vets place the number in the thousands. Every reptile parent should be aware of this condition, its common causes, and how to point out and react to the signs of leopard gecko impaction. If you own a Leo, this post is a must-read.

Impaction is a potentially deadly condition that arises when a solid or semi-solid mass blocks a leopard gecko’s digestive tract. Common causes of the concern include using the wrong substrate, dehydration, low tank temperatures, and feeding too many hard-shelled feeders. Treatment involves giving your pet a warm bath, but you must consult your vet if this doesn’t offer the expected relief.

Keep reading for an in-depth study of leopard gecko impaction. We will discuss what causes impaction, treatment options, how to prevent the condition, and more.

Let’s begin!

What Is Impaction In Leopard Geckos?

Impaction occurs when a leopard gecko’s digestive tract is blocked by organic matter like food and shed skin or inorganic matter like loose substrate. The obstruction remains in the digestive tract, making it challenging for your pet to defecate. Consequently, your leopard gecko will stop eating because the belly can only hold as much food and fecal matter at the same time.

If a blockage is caused by substrate, your scaly friend may still accept small amounts of food but have trouble passing stool. The signs of impaction are often mild at the beginning, especially if only minimal substrate is ingested. Unfortunately, even a partial obstruction that isn’t clear tends to worsen over time.

Impaction caused by food or foreign objects is often more severe. Symptoms present themselves sooner and can go from bad to worse in a few days. You must seek veterinary intervention as soon as you notice something is off. Impaction is immensely painful for leopard geckos and can kill if left untreated.

>Recommended Reading: Leopard Gecko Dying Signs

What Are The Signs Of Impaction In Leopard Geckos?

Upholding proper husbandry practices can make it easier to know if something is amiss with your leopard gecko. For instance, you have reason to suspect impaction if you go for days without doing your usual pooper scooper duties. Depending on our pet’s age, diet, and metabolism, he should poop between 2 and 10 times weekly.

>Recommended Reading: What Does Leopard Gecko Poop Look Like?

Besides not defecating, here are other common symptoms of impaction in leopard geckos.

5 Common Causes of Leopard Gecko Impaction

Improper husbandry and poor feeding practices are the two main culprits for causing impaction in leopard geckos. Below, we will break down five areas of concern to remain on high alert for.

1. Loose Substrate

The care practices of leopard geckos are often shrouded in folklore husbandry beliefs, especially when discussing matters substrate. While some folks aggressively assert that loose substrate is good because it allows Leos to dig and satisfy natural instincts, others swear that such flooring poses more harm than good.

What is beyond debate is that loose substrate can cause impaction, especially when multiple aspects of husbandry are off. For instance, a Leo has greater chances of suffering impaction if he feeds on the moss from the moist hide. Such cravings generally stem from insufficient supplementation through feeder insect dusting or gut loading.

Sand Impaction Leopard Gecko

Sand Impaction Leopard Gecko

Also, impaction becomes a possibility when using substrates like sand. Leopard geckos love to hunt their food, and there is always a risk of your pet ingesting some of the substrate when feeding on worms and insects. Sand hardens when it gets to the belly, and consuming significant amounts of the substrate can quickly trigger devastating symptoms like stomach bloating.

>Recommended Reading: Best Substrates for Leopard Geckos

2. Poor Diet

Another common cause of impaction is a poor diet. Any of the following issues can cause blockage of the digestive tract.

To get it right, you must distinguish between feeder insects best used as staples and those best offered as treats. Hard-shelled feeders, in particular, must always be provided in moderation. Varieties like mealworms may be widely available, easy to gut-load, and pocket-friendly, but they don’t make the best bugs for hatchlings and juveniles.

On matters of supplementation, multiple studies on humans have concluded that lower levels of Vitamin D increase the risk of functional constipation and a long list of digestive disorders. It’s safe to assume the same happens to leopard geckos, especially if they don’t receive sufficient Vitamin D supplementation and are deprived of UVA/UVB lighting. Generally, the deficiency triggers intestinal motility disorders, increasing the risk of impaction.

3. Dehydration

Water is the go-to beverage for all living creatures, and leopard geckos are no exception. Although they are desert animals that are naturally not great fans of drinking water, they still take a few sips throughout the day. It is imperative to ensure your scaly friend always has clean drinking water in a shallow bowl to prevent dehydration.

Proper hydration is crucial for smooth digestion. It helps break down food to ensure the body efficiently absorbs the nutrients. Most importantly, it makes stool softer and prevents constipation. A dehydrated leopard gecko can suffer impaction caused by constipation.


Some signs of dehydration include dry, wrinkled skin and trouble shedding. Besides changing the water bowl daily, you can ensure your pet remains hydrated using the following tips:

Poor husbandry practices can quickly cause many health issues, including impaction. Low temperatures, in particular, are notorious for causing digestive problems. Your scaly friend needs belly heat to aid in proper digestion, and the lack of it can cause constipation.

One area that needs keen attention is the basking spot. You should maintain it at 90-95°F to ensure your pet can access sufficient heat for his body to function correctly. Without a basking area, your Leo may suffer decreased digestive functionality, and food could fail to move in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to impaction.

4. Low Humidity

One misconception that cannot be further from the truth is that leopard geckos are desert creatures that prefer overly dry air. Unfortunately, even well-meaning keepers can set the humidity levels too low because they are under the impression that that is what their pets need.

What is true is that proper humidity is crucial even for a moisture-conserving, desert-adapted species like a leopard gecko. Dry air can cause dehydration and impaction, among other health concerns. In the wild, ambient humidity goes between 30 and 40%, and you should replicate the same in your pet’s tank. Understandably, these percentages are far higher than many keepers believe.

What to Do If I Suspect My Leopard Gecko Has Impaction?

If you suspect your leopard gecko has a gut impaction, the first step is to stop all feeding. Most concerns go from bad to worse the more the reptile feeds without pooping. Infrequent defecation or no poop clearly indicates that food is not moving along the digestive system as expected.

You can quickly examine your leopard gecko’s belly to confirm signs of impaction. Hold your Leo in one hand and mind your fingers because he may be grumpy and aggressive. Use your other hand to make circular motions on the tummy and feel for lumps or swelling.

If the stomach is overly bloated and you also notice other signs like lethargy and partial paralysis on the hind limbs, we recommend seeking medical intervention immediately. Try the following steps if you only notice mild symptoms of impaction.

  1. Fill a container with lukewarm water.
  2. Ensure the water level is shallow enough to cover no higher than your pet’s elbows.
  3. Add a few drops of olive oil to the water.
  4. Soak your gecko in the water for 20 to 30 minutes and give him a gentle belly massage.
  5. Wait for a day to see if impaction symptoms recede.
  6. If this doesn’t work, administer a laxative like olive oil by dripping a few drops on your pet’s nose.
  7. If the impaction doesn’t clear by day 2, visit your vet as soon as possible.

If the above steps work, your pet is not out of the woods yet. A warm bath encourages defecation to clear an obstruction, which only temporarily solves the problem. For more permanent solutions, you must correct husbandry or feeding errors that caused the impaction in the first place.

Any home remedies that work are not a substitute for quality veterinary care. We also recommend following up with a vet visit for diagnosis of any potential underlying health conditions. After all, a healthy gecko should not require routine soaking or bathing to help with proper digestion and excretion.

Treatment for Leopard Gecko Impaction

The treatment for leopard gecko impaction often depends on the severity of the condition. Rehydration and making the necessary husbandry changes should work in mild cases. If your pet suffers severe impaction, you must consult an expert to address the issue and help clear the blockage safely.

Before treatment, your vet will perform an X-ray to better understand what is happening in your Leo’s belly. Once impaction is confirmed, the expert will try to flush out the impaction using an enema. Often, this should be enough to cleanse or stimulate the emptying of the bowel. Surgery may be necessary to save your gecko if the enema procedure doesn’t work.

How to Prevent Leopard Gecko Impaction

Impaction in leopard geckos can be scary, and treatment can cost a fortune, especially if your pet needs surgery. Fortunately, the concern is highly avoidable using the following preventative measures.

  1. Keep your leopard gecko well-hydrated by always providing fresh water in the tank.
  2. Provide a moist hide and check it constantly to ensure it maintains humid conditions.
  3. Provide adequate Vitamin D3 supplementation or UVB lighting.
  4. Maintain suitable enclosure temperatures and a comfortable basking area.
  5. Avoid loose substrates because they pose a higher risk of impaction.
  6. Only feed bugs with hard exoskeletons in moderation (or avoid them altogether).
  7. Never offer feeder insects larger than half the size of your gecko’s head.
  8. Provide adequate environmental enrichment to encourage your pet to walk, climb, and exercise.
  9. Track your gecko’s bowel movements to know when something is amiss.

Final Thoughts

One of the worst nightmares of any reptile parent is to learn about a deadly but preventable condition when it’s too late. Vets so often meet keepers who had no idea leopard gecko impaction even existed. They only learn about the concern when it’s actively threatening their pet’s life.

Information is power, and we hope this post saves you from the heartbreak of nursing an impacted Leo. We have outlined common causes of the condition and even the preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of impaction. Be sure to take proactive steps to safeguard your scaly friend’s health and happiness.

Frank Miller

Frank Miller is the Founder of Lizard Advisor and owns several pet lizards, from leopard geckos, bearded dragons, crested geckos, chameleons, and others. The mission of this website is to make owning a pet lizard very easy for everyone, but mostly beginners. And each year, he continues to help more people learn more about lizard care and much more.